Cross-border tourism and trade through trans-boundary rivers between India and Bangladesh is poised to play a significant role in the socio-economic development of local communities and environmental and cultural preservation in India and Bangladesh, said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International.
“Sustainable cross-border river-based tourism will increase if we critically focus on three elements – infrastructure development, right and easy regulations, and public awareness,” Chatterjee added.
He was moderating a public-private dialogue on India-Bangladesh cross-border tourism and cruise operations organised by CUTS International on Thursday.
The webinar organised as part of a regional programme titled “Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia” was attended by more than 75 stakeholders from the two countries.
In her special address, Amita Prasad, Chairperson, Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Government of India said that India is being developed as a cruise shipping destination with cooperation with Bangladesh as part of Maritime India Vision 2030.
“India-Bangladesh Protocol Routes are promoted to connect the tourist places along the banks of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and other important rivers shared between India and Bangladesh”, she said.
She added that Standard Operating Procedures for passenger and cruise services on coastal and protocol routes between India and Bangladesh have been signed on October 25 2018. Two cruises between Dhaka and Kolkata have been completed along the Protocol Route till now.
She further highlighted that river cruise tourism would generate employment to the local communities of both the countries in the form of cruise crew, jetty operators, language translator, local tourist guide, local cultural artists, small boat operators and local food joints by women etc.
“However, to enhance this initiative there is a need to ease the security arrangements, immigration procedures for passengers and crew, custom clearances and health clearances for all the foreign tourists,” she added.
Dr Prasad, Commodore Golam Sadeq, Chairperson, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said that river tourism has a lot of economic opportunities as this is one of the unique deltas in the world.
“Regulatory issues are being resolved, now the private sector should act vigorously and start marketing once the COVID -19 crisis is under control”, he added.
Bangladesh has a river-based lifestyle and hence can attract tourists from Western countries. Be it the life of people living in boats or Hilsa fishing during the monsoon, river tourism has exciting things to offer, he said.
According to Taufiq Rahman, Chief Executive, Journey Plus, Bangladesh, the COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed the tourism sector and the only solution for survival is regional, small haul, and cross-border tourism.
“One thing we should remember is that such tourism is not just confined to the cruise alone, but people also want to see historical places, local communities and want to participate in the water-related activities.
Speaking on the occasion, Raj Singh, Director, M/S Heritage River Cruises Pvt. Ltd said that river tourism has a lot to offer for local communities.
It can take tourists to places that are not accessible by road, it provides opportunities for folk dancers and artisans, including women.
He also stressed the opportunities in shorter routes owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He suggested having modern jetties, sustainable and technologically advanced ships, noise-free silencers, oil separators and pollution-free shores for sustainable river cruise tourism.
Narrating the glory of northeast India, Samudra Gupta Kashyap, State Information Commissioner, Assam said that most of the tourist and old cities in northeast India are on the banks of the river.
He suggested creating a partnership with media and new age travel writers who can write on various aspects of the Brahmaputra river and explore stories to promote river tourism.
“River cruise is a niche tourism area, the question is how we can utilize the resources in this part of the world?,” said Biswajit Chakrabarty, Director, Northeast Advisory Council, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.